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26 January 2012

Leadership: who needs it? Who can have it?

Written by
Jennifer Garvey Berger

I talked about my book Changing on the Job, with Amy Levin-Epstein for a blog she writes for CBS Money Watch (check it out here). Her questions reminded me that while we talk about leadership all the time—and spend lots of time talking about how to improve leadership—there are still a couple of really basic questions about leadership that matter at the beginning of any leadership conversation: Who needs it? Can anyone develop it?

Let’s take that first one first. I think we all need to develop into leaders. Not necessarily as managers in organizations, responsible for looking after staff, but in whatever you do, wherever you do it. I mean, think about it, in what part of your life do you not need leadership skills? Leadership is about leading yourself and others into a better future. Having a formal leadership position would just be a small part of the leading we are called to do in our families, our schools, our communities. In the media every day you see people bemoaning the lack of leadership in our society. They’re not talking about the lack of managers or a shortage of management positions. They’re talking about a lack of the visionary and creative everyday leadership that helps individuals and groups grow beyond themselves. The more complex and thoughtful leadership there is in the world, the more likely we are to be guiding ourselves and one another to a better future.

But if this is true and all of us need to do this leadership thing, and all of us could stand to get better at it, the next questions become alive: Can we all do it? Can we all get better at it? Here, again, I think the answer is Yes. I have written in previous blogs about clients who have been thought of as “hopeless” by their colleagues who have grown and changed enormously with some combined effort in an organization that cared and an individual who recognized the importance of changing. And that leads us to the single biggest answer at all to these questions.

The most important thing about stepping up your leadership and becoming a better leader is believing that you can and should make those changes. I would love to eliminate every version of the cliché “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” I have an old dog, and he learns new tricks all the time. Just because you haven’t learned a new trick in a while doesn’t mean you can’t learn one now. Once you have the desire to step more into a leadership space, and you have the belief that it’s possible, it’s just about doing the work to make it so.


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